NSF Postdoctoral Fellows

John C. Walker jcw at BIOSCI.MBP.MISSOURI.EDU
Wed Mar 23 09:20:16 EST 1994


The following is an anonymous message from a former NSF Plant Postdoctoral
fellow.  I have agreed to post this message to protect the identity of the
author. The  opinions expressed are not my own

I would also like to point out that I am not opposed to foreign
postdoctoral experiences, I did one and I thought it was one of the most
valuable experiences of my life.  I intend to go overseas on sabbatical as
soon as possible.  But should it be required? Is it productive to do a six
month shift overseas?  Does it really make for a "world class scientist"?
or does world class science make a "world class scientist"?

Second, I have had a  NSF Plant Biology postdoctoral fellow in the
laboratory (prior to the "foreign requirement") and it was truly valuable
opportunity for me and the fellow.  I would like to see the program
continued in some form.

Third, I don't really want to be a moderator of this discussion but I think
it would be useful for other people to relay their experiences and
impressions to NSF.

*****************Appended Message**************************
>
>As a former NSF Plant Postdoc, I would like to make a few comments about 
>my experience with the program.  First, I agree that the "foreign 
>requirement" has no justifiable relation to the purpose of the postdoc. 
>There are other ways to work in 'foreign' labs, and anyone who feels that 
>is important to their development should show enough initiative to explore 
>those options themselves.  I found a way to work in a European lab for a 
>while, and it was worth it-- but I don't think it should be required.
>
>But more to the point, I have some negative comments about the NSF Plant 
>Postdoc program at the time I experienced it.  I hope these comments 
>shape the way NSF designs future postdoc programs for plant biologists 
>(whether under the umbrella of 'Environmental Biology' or whatever).
>        First: There was no guarantee of support in the laboratory the 
>postdoc joined.  This is plant biology, folks, and we all know how 
>underequipped and underfunded many of our labs are.  So, when I visited 
>the lab I planned to work in, they appeared to have the equipment and 
>facilities to do the project I had described.  What I didn't know until I 
>got there and tried to do research, was that this lab hadn't gotten their 
>grants renewed, and barely had the money to buy the reagents to do even 
>the simplest experiments.  At one point, I had to decide whether to use 
>part of my institutional allowance to buy 3 months of health insurance (see 
>below) or buy an antibody I needed.  (I bought the antibody.)   So, they 
>welcomed me because I was "free" but they did not have to prove they had 
>dedicated sufficient resources to support my research.  
>I have chosen to do a second postdoc (and give up the $35,000 starter grant 
>I was eligible for...) just to try and do this project right!
>        Recommendation:  The supporting laboratory has to demonstrate 
>that they have set aside reasonable funds ($3000/yr) to buy supplies for 
>the the postdoc's research.
>
>        Second:  Unfair access to benefits.  I received an "institutional 
>allowance" to use for travel, insurance, etc.  Let's see-- first I had to 
>let them take overhead from that allowance to "qualify" me to be allowed 
>to buy insurance through the university's group policy.  After they took 
>out the overhead, there was not even enough for me to pay for a whole 
>year's coverage each year.  So, I had gaps in coverage, and kept my 
>fingers crossed.  (Of course I was not eligible to use student health 
>services).  This is because I was single.  Other NSF postdocs with 
>employed spouses got covered on their spouses' policies and had the 
>entire institutional allowance to spend on travel, etc.  Is this fair? 
>
>        Third:  No raises.  Frankly, it was insulting to be told that 
>this was a 'prestigious' fellowship, but to have my salary frozen at the 
>rate for the year it was awarded.  Other fellows who received awards the 
>next year made more money.  Postdocs being paid off the PI's grant got 
>raises as mandated by the state/institutional schedule.    Again, is this 
>fair?  
>
>In conclusion, I was not happy with the NSF Plant Biology Postdoc Program 
>as I experienced it.  I'm not sure the end of that program is such a 
>loss.   I hope that the new "Environmental" program treats its awardees 
>better.  

###########################################################################


John C. Walker
Divison of Biological Sciences
308 Tucker Hall
University of Missouri
Columbia, MO   65211
Phone: 314-882-3583 (Office)
       314-882-3481  (Lab)
FAX:   314-882-0123
EMAIL: jcw at biosci.mbp.missouri.edu




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